Confusion in Landscape for a Good Woman
I found Landscape for a Good Woman to be a confusing landscape, one whose contours are difficult to follow. I don't mean to imply that I did not find the book fascinating, but it was so rich and the stories and scholarly discussions were so intertwined that it was difficult to keep track of what Steedman was trying to convey. Why did she choose to write in this way? Instead of giving us a straight narrative about her childhood and allowing us to make our own inferences, I feel as if she's told a story and, at the same time, she's told us how to interpret that story and has given us a critique of her own and others' interpretations of her story.
Steedman does begin the section titled "Stories" by saying that "this book. . . is about interpretations." Of course, all stories, fiction or non-fiction, are interpretations of events and characters, told from the perspective of the author. I don't find the interpretations themselves to be problematic; maybe what I find confusing is that Steedman gives us interpretations from so many different perspectives at once. We get the autobiography of the author, combined with stories about her mother and father and their lives. Steedman also provides the perspective of a historian, a cultural critic, and a psychoanalyst. She then goes further to critique the methods of historians, cultural observers, and psychoanalysts. Meanwhile, she intertwines bits of information about her personal life, some of which she has already explained, some of which is new information. Reading Landscape for a Good Woman reminded me of reading the fictional stream-of-conciousness narrative of To the Lighthouse in that it feels, for example, like reading about Mrs. Ramsay's jumbled thoughts about Mr. Carmichael, her husband and her life in general while she's in the middle of reading The Fisherman's Wife to her son.
Another possible way to look at Steedman's method of interpreting her childhood and her mother's childhood, is that while many authors and historians take on the task of interpreting a character's or...